The Howe Sound Crest Trail Hiking Guide

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St-Marks-Summit

View from St. Mark’s Summit along the Howe Sound Crest Trail

Howe Sound Crest Trail – Table of Contents

  1. Hike Introduction
  2. Hike Statistics
  3. Map and Elevation
  4. Hiking Route Description
  5. Directions and Parking
  6. Hike rating
  7. Free PDF Download

Howe Sound Crest Trail Hike Intro

The Howe Sound Crest Trail (HSCT) is a gorgeous 29 km trail stretching from Cypress Bowl to Porteau Cove. The trail takes you over multiple summits, offering spectacular views of Howe Sound, the Lions and the beautifully turquoise Deeks Lakes, to name a few. The trail is no walk-in-the-park and is typically tackled as an overnight trip, which is the safest way. However, it can be completed in one day by an experienced and fit person. I completed the Howe Sound Crest Trail with a friend as a trail run in about 9 hours. If you wanted to hike, and start the day very early, you can surely traverse the whole trail in one day, just be prepared to be finishing your hike the dark, and tired. The scenery is so spectacular however, that you’re better off planning to camp overnight, and taking the time to enjoy the trail without risk of getting stuck in the dark overnight if your day-hike doesn’t go to plan. There are several popular spots to camp, detailed below in the post (open fires are not permitted).


Howe Sound Crest Trail Hike Stats

Rating: Very Difficult
Distance: 29 km
Elevation Gain: 610 m
Cumulative Elevation Gain: Approx 1,830m gain / 2,600m descent (according to my personal GPS, not including ascent of west Lion). Reverse those numbers if you start at Porteau Cove.
Highest Point: 1,542 m (Unnecessary Ridge)
Time Needed: 1-2 Days
Type: Point to Point
Season: Late Summer
Dogs Allowed: Yes (on leash)
Est. Driving Time from Vancouver: 30 Minutes
Trailhead Coordinates: N49.395901, W-123.203933

For a better understanding of the stats and difficulty rating, check out the Hiking Guides page for details. Always carry The 10 Essentials and fill out a trip plan.


The Great Hikes of Vancouver eBook
This hike is included in The Great Hikes of Vancouver eBook, which contains a hand-picked selection of the top ten must-do hikes for your next adventure in Southwest British Columbia’s impressive wilderness. Get the book and take this trail guide with you on your hike.Learn More

HSCT Hike Map and Elevation

elevation-profile

Elevation profile for the Howe Sound Crest Trail. Cypress Bowl to Porteau Road


A word of caution

Given the altitude and terrain of much of the Howe Sound Crest Trail, you’ll want to be prepared for snow, and make doubly sure you take all the regular hiking safety precautions. This is a summer-use only trail, as there are several areas along the trail that pose a high level of avalanche danger. Also, late in the summer there are very few opportunities for fresh water on large stretches of the trail.

This is a long, difficult hike and you should be prepared for it.

You can tackle the trail north to south, but south to north is more common as it provides a net-downhill in elevation from Cypress Bowl to Porteau Cove. You’ll either need to drop a second car in Porteau Cove or have a friend pick you up on your exit from the trail.


HSCT Hiking Route

To begin the hike, go to the Cypress Mountain parking lot (exit #8 off Hwy 1). Park at the farthest parking lot closest to the ski lodge. There is a BC Parks map at the trailhead and you there are plenty of sign posts marking ‘Howe Sound Crest Trail’ to get you started. The beginning stretch of the trail is well marked and maintained, and should be easy to stay on track. The trek up to St. Mark’s Summit has recently undergone some major maintenance and is well-marked, wide, and easy traveling, aside from the steady gain in elevation. The hike to St. Mark’s Summit is about 5.5 km. Once at the summit, you will need to take a quick detour off the HSCT to the trails on your left to enjoy the view of Howe Sound.

After leaving St. Mark’s Summit and heading back onto the HSCT, you continue north with Mt. Unnecessary South and North peaks standing between you and the Lions. If you’ve ever wondered how Mt. Unnecessary received its name, you’ll now find out. The trail is not as well developed from here on, but there are still lots of trail markers. There is a steep climb up to Mt. Unnecessary Ridge. Provided you don’t scramble up the west Lion, this is actually the highest elevation for your trip at 1,542 m. Mt. Unnecessary  offers spectacular scenery in all directions (Howe Sound to the west, North Vancouver to the East, and the Lions due north).

The-Lions-Howe-Sound

Approaching the Lions from Mt. Unnecessary

From here you carry on to the infamous Lions. You can scramble up the west Lion (with extreme caution) if you’d like, but this adds more distance, elevation, and time than what is listed in the Howe Sound Crest Trail hike specs of this guide. To continue on the Howe Sound Crest Trail, you’ll find the trail veers down to your right, and flanks the west Lion on its east face. Beware of rocks falling from those scaling the Lion above you. If you have a heavy pack, this part will also be difficult as you scale across the west Lion to the col between the Lions. The col between the Lions is a nice spot to take a break, enjoy the view, and get a lay of the land ahead of you.

Beyond the Lions

Next stop, James peak. The trail drops from the col, carries on around Thomas peak as you scramble over some boulders, and then climbs to Enchantment Pass. Once you reach the top of James peak, you’ll have great views in all directions. There is a fairly steep drop off the other side of James peak, and you will carry on the trail to flank around David Peak. This section of the trail is within the trees and parts of the trail feel a bit overgrown. Once you have made your around David Peak the trail will open up again and you will soon be in Magnesia Meadows. All told, from the West Lion to Magnesia Meadows is about 4 km of technical trail. Beyond David Peak there is a trail junction that connects to Mount Harvey to the west – make sure you stay due-north on the HSCT towards Brunswick Mountain.


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Capilano-Lake

View of Capilano Lake through the clouds

At Magnesia Meadow there is an emergency shelter. Carrying on past the shelter, you will climb a bit and enter the forest before coming to the junction for Brunswick Mountain. If you take the trail up (to your right) you will head up Brunswick, or down (to your left) and you will head down into Lions Bay. Instead, cross the trail and follow the Howe Sound Crest Trail northwest along Hat Pass. The trail will then descend to Brunswick Lake Hut, with some amazing scenery on this stretch of the trail.

There is a creek connecting Brunswick Lake to Deeks lake and the trail will parallel it. You will come to a waterfall, and views of Middle Lake and Deeks Lake.

Once you have reached Deeks Lake, you’re on the home stretch. Its now a steady downhill slog to the Porteau Cove parking lot. Once you come out from the trail there is a logging road, which carries you all the way to the parking lot. If you have a capable vehicle (AWD) you can actually drive your car up here from the parking lot (or have your friend pick you up from this point) by skirting the gate, which may be frowned-upon – I’m not sure. Otherwise, follow the logging road for the final 2 km or so to the parking lot.

Howe-Sound-Crest-Trail-Fungi

Fungi along the trail

For camping, your best source of information will come from BC Park’s page for Cypress Provincial Park, excerpted below:

 Walk-In/Wilderness Camping

Wilderness, backcountry or walk-in camping is allowed at higher elevations beyond the Alpine and Nordic ski areas and along the Howe Sound Crest Trail, but no facilities are provided.

There are 4 preferred sites along the Howe Sound Crest trail.

  • Plateau above Enchantment Lake (11 km from Cypress Mountain Resort);
  • Magnesia Meadows (14.5 km from Cypress Mountain Resort );
  • Brunswick Lake (19 km from Cypress Mountain Resort);
  • Deeks Lake (22 km from Cypress Mountain Resort).

Tent pads or sites are not provided. Campers are encouraged to camp in cleared areas as to limit environmental impacts. The backcountry of Cypress Provincial Park can be rugged, and weather is often severe. Campers should be experienced in the backcountry and prepared for all weather conditions. Campfires are NOT permitted. Backcountry winter camping (1 km beyond Alpine and Nordic ski areas) is allowed. No facilities are provided. Backcountry travelers are encouraged to use extreme caution in avalanche terrain.



Running the Howe Sound Crest Trail

For trail runners, it doesn’t get any better than this. Doing a car-drop and going light means you can traverse the whole trail in a day. Below is a great 3-minute video from my buddy Jeff Pelletier from his run of the HSCT.

Regarding trail running, I have received the following note from a reader, so please do your part to ensure there is no litter on the trail. Please pick up any inadvertently dropped litter you find: “The only litter I found on this trail was many tear-off strips of used gel packs, at regular intervals, suggesting that perhaps trail runners were doing the littering.”

(If you want to see the set of my photos from my run of Howe Sound Crest Trail click here)


Directions and Parking

For this Howe Sound Crest Trail hike, typically one car is dropped in Porteau Cove. The parking lot is off Porteau Road just about 15 minutes north of Lions Bay on the Sea to Sky highway.

Here is the Google Map for the Porteau Cove Parking lot.

Here is the Google Map for Cypress Bowl.


Outdoor Vancouver and Reader’s Hike Rating

  • Variety of the terrain - 90%
    90%
  • Views and scenery - 95%
    95%
  • Not too crowded - 85%
    85%
  • Overall 'fun factor' - 95%
    95%

Summary

When it comes to hiking within a close proximity to the city of Vancouver, it doesn't get any better than this. Doable as an epic day-hike, or a two day adventure, the scenery and challenge of this trail are unparalleled.

Leave your rating using the stars, or the comments section below:

91%
User Rating 4.22 (9 votes)
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Other great hikes in this area

  1. Hiking St. Mark’s Summit (moderate)
  2. Hiking Brunswick Mountain (difficult)
  3. Camping at Porteau Cove
  4. View all hiking guides here

Download the PDF version of this guide for offline use

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Sites That Link to this Post

  1. Un’arrampicata sopra le montagne di Vancouver | In Vacanza | Feb 18th, 2014
  2. 10 Amazing Day Hikes Near Vancouver, British Columbia | Unified Stream | Jun 16th, 2013
  1. Karl W says:

    Mathieu,

    Thanks for the update! Glad you were able to complete the hike and the weather cleared up for you at the end. Thanks for providing the details on the time needed to tackle from Cypress.

    And thanks for grabbing a copy of the book!

    Karl

  2. Travis says:

    A friend and I have just completed this hike over 2 days, and I just want to highlight something to all of the hikers who are reading this and may not be uber-serious outdoorsman. This hike is NOT EASY. It can be VERY HARD with 30+ pounds on your back. Following the South/North trail direction mentioned above -> the first day from Cypress Bowl to Magnesia meadows took us 11.5hrs. And we are above average fitness. The last 5kms before magnesia meadows, took 5hrs.!!! ( Which is hard work after hiking all day from Cypress Bowl AND over the lions)

    This hike IS gorgeous, the scenery is unbelievable, it truly is Just be prepared for one of the hardest 1st day hikes that you’ve ever done.

    I highly recommend it through :-) I think 3 days might be a good time frame if you are doing it for the first time. Then wind it back as you get better.

    Kudos to the Author for a great article….

    • Karl W says:

      Thanks Travis!

      Yes, it is no joke. I think I will update the rating from ‘difficult’ to ‘very difficult’.

      Either way, glad you enjoyed the hike and the amazing scenery! Thanks for taking the time to comment back on the post, and for sharing your experience.

      Karl

      • Mathieu says:

        Hey Karl,
        I wonder if you ever did a round-trip hike from Cypress Bowl and back, and if so how long is the trail and if it’s a good 1-day hike?
        It seems that it would be a better way up to the Lions compared to the trail from Lions Bay.

        What’s your experience?

        Thanks so much, great blog
        Mathieu

        • Karl W says:

          HI Mathieu,

          I haven’t done the Lions as a out-and-back from Cypress. I think it would be a more scenic route than Lions Bay. However, I think it takes a bit longer as the total distance would be longer. I know its doable as a day-trip, but it would be a long, difficult hike.

          Starting at Lions Bay is the more popular route, I think because its shorter, but if wanted better views (ie, St Marks, Unnecessary Mountain), then Cypress is the way to go.

          You could follow the instructions to this guide, and just stop at the Lions. Also, if you choose to summit the west Lion, be very careful, as it is a very exposed scramble and a bad slip would not end well.

          Let me know how it goes if you do it!

          Karl

          • Mathieu says:

            Karl,
            I’ve just completed this hike last Saturday, from Cypress Bowl to the Lions and back.
            As described, each way is 10.5km, so in the hand it’s a scenic one-day hike with rugged terrain and lots of elevation (positive and negative) gain.

            Compared to more classical routes where the way back goes faster than the way up, it took us exactly the same time (4h30m each way), because:
            – there is still uphill to do on the way back (you really understand Unnecessary Mountain’s name);
            – some sections are really tricky on the way back, with some ropes and big rocks, terrain could be muddy / slippery if it’s rained.

            So the main advice would be to plan extra time to be able to get back in time.

            Weather-wise, we haven’t been lucky as it was really cloudy / foggy until mid-afternoon and we couldn’t even see the West Lion despite being at the lookout which is a few hundred metres from the summit…
            But when it cleared out, the view on the Howe Sound was magnificient.

            Thanks so much for your blog and for your e-Book, which I recommend to anyone who likes clear directions during their hikes.

            Mathieu

  3. Great hike. Any bride who wants to have a wedding here? We are in :) We had brides climbing panorama ridge at Black tusk, Whistler Mt., and more crazy places… This hike under Lions is very nice. JP

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

    • Kelvin says:

      Hi there, how were the winter conditions for this hike? We are thinking of doing the hike in a few days (Nov.11-13) and are concerned by the slippery conditions caused by snow. We were only planning to use hiking boots but could bring snowshoes if necessary. Any advice would be appreciated!

      • Karl W says:

        I’ve never done this one under snow. Given the technicality of the trail at several sections, snowshoes may hinder you more than they help. The BC Parks website states several parts pose an avalanche risk and while there probably isn’t a lot of snow at this point I wouldn’t even attempt it without considerable winter backcountry experience under your belt. Save it for next summer on a blue-bird day when you can enjoy the insane views.

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